Preparing pups for community service

Pip's passion for training man's best friend.

Phillipa (Pip) Edwards

Phillipa Edwards (Pip) is in the business of loving dogs.

And one could easily be forgiven for thinking that as a Puppy Education Supervisor, Pip has the enviable job of playing with puppies all day, although regular cuddles with Labrador and Golden Retriever pups is a major perk. 

Pip, who studied a Bachelor of Sciences (Animal Science) at the University of Adelaide, works for the Royal Society for the Blind (RSB) overseeing the training of pups destined to become guide and assistance dogs in our communities. Pip’s job requires in-depth knowledge of dogs and their behaviours, as well as an equally good understanding of human psychology so she can teach volunteers how to train puppies in their care.

I am someone who really thrives on pushing myself and trying to get more knowledge and experience under my belt. I'm a big believer in trying to better myself.Phillipa (Pip) Edwards

“A large part of the work is training people, and understanding that each person learns differently,” she said.

According to Pip, there is also no ‘cookie-cutter’ way to train a dog because each dog’s personality is different.

“It’s not so much that dogs learn differently, because all dogs love positive reinforcement, but every dog’s personality is a little bit different so every dog responds differently to each stimulus,” she said.

Pip sees her pupils as much as she can to ensure trainers and pups are working well together.

“I’ll meet them at the shops to not only teach them how to train a dog, but to make sure the puppy is looking happy and settled.

“After all, we’re not going to force the dog to do a role they are not comfortable with…the dog’s welfare and health is always paramount.”

Phillipa (Pip) Edwards

Pip’s recent involvement in the RSB’s new assistance dog program Operation K9, which provides assistance dogs to Australian Defence Force veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) reaffirms she made the right career choice.

“We have clients who have been able to reduce the amount of medication they take, and we’ve had some clients come off their medication completely,” she said.

The assistance dogs are not only trained to perform specific tasks to help mitigate PTSD symptoms, but to also provide companionship to service members. 

Pip said for some veterans, even the small changes have been life transforming.

“A lot of the time the dogs help the veterans’ relationships too because the burden on the partner is suddenly a little bit eased when it’s possible to go shopping or for a walk on your own – it’s pretty incredible.”

For Pip, her love of dogs started in the same way it did for many of us, through having pet dogs as a child. She described her family photo album as being full of photos of her with dogs looking “happy as.”

Phillipa (Pip) Edwards

It was through her association with Animal Welfare League (AWL) that Pip really started to see working with dogs as a potential career.

At AWL, Pip worked her way up from cleaning dog kennels and cat cages, to desk roles, being involved in the pet adoption process, and then on to becoming a behavioural assessor, determining whether a dog was suitable for adoption. Pip said it was a difficult decision to leave AWL, but the opportunity to work as a Puppy Education Supervisor for RSB was too good to miss.

“I am someone who really thrives on pushing myself and trying to get more knowledge and experience under my belt. I’m a big believer in trying to better yourself,” she said.

This is why Pip also guests lectures to animal sciences students at the University’s Roseworthy campus, and has supervised honours students undertaking their major projects at RSB.

Although Pip could have gone down a very different path and studied engineering at University, following another of her passions, Pip believes she has made the right career choice. “I am fully aware that the animal industry is not an industry where I am going to become a millionaire...,” Pip said.

“If you can find a job where you are happy to go to work, well surely that is the jackpot.”

Story by Kelly Brown
Photos by Meaghan Coles

Tagged in lumen, lumen Winter 2019